Making history at Goizueta
“I’ve always felt called to be of service.”
Reese — founder of Emory’s joint JD/MBA program — has left an imprint on Emory University in small and large ways, much as his family has in American history. One of Reese’s ancestors and namesake, Philip Syng, a silversmith, arrived in Philadelphia around the same time as Benjamin Franklin and together they helped launch the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Hospital, the earliest established hospital in the U.S. That same relative made the silver pen and inkwell set used by members of the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence. Relatives also include five presidents and one Supreme Court chief justice. “I’ve always felt called to be of service,” Reese says simply.
Before rising the ranks at SunTrust and other financial institutions — eventually sitting on many boards — Reese, a Delaware native, studied history as an undergrad at Emory. Upon graduation in 1966, he entered the U.S. Army, serving for six years. After returning to the states as a decorated war veteran who had attained the rank of captain (at one point carrying responsibility for 850 soldiers), Reese applied to law school at Emory. With so many soldiers returning home, the law schools were flooded with applicants — 2,400 applicants for 230 spots at Emory in 1972, according to Reese. “Emory took a chance on me more than once. Consequently, I find it easy to give back on a host of levels.”
“I’ve always been someone who always looked over the horizon, rather than the near-term.”
Noting that many law school students eventually find their way into business, Reese helped create the joint JD/MBA program in the early 1970s. “They had been thinking about a joint/cross degree and just hadn’t pulled it together,” Reese recalls. “I’ve always been someone who always looked over the horizon, rather than the near-term.” The joint program claims many notable graduates, including (from Robert Schapiro): John W. Chidsey III 87B 87L, former CEO of Burger King; Kathy Buckman Gibson 89B 89L, former president of Buckman International; John Halvey 86B 86L, general counsel, Bridgewater Associates; James Robert Lanzone 98B 98L, president and CEO of CBS Interactive; Jonathan Layne 79B 79L, partner Gibson Dunn, member of Emory Board of Trustees; Patrise Michelle Perkins-Hooker 84B 84L, Fulton County attorney; Wyatt Joseph Wachtel 99B 99L, managing director, York Capital Management.
Why would a law degree be useful in business? “The MBA helps with analysis, and the law degree helps with advocacy,” Reese explains. “If you have a client you are working with in business, it helps to see the other side of the issue. Lawyers are trained to flip to the other perspective and gain strength from seeing the other side, the side they have to overcome. That’s a helpful skill. And if you’re in business settings with lawyers in the room, having the law background is a great advantage.” The joint program was an early collaborative degree at Emory, laying the groundwork for similar programs like religion and law, public health and MBA, MD/MBA and more.
“There is a service ethic at Emory that touched me as an undergrad, was furthered as a grad student, and that drives me to this day.”
Former dean of Emory’s law school Robert Schapiro describes Reese as “an energetic and effective force in the Emory Law community for many years. In a time of great change in legal education, Phil helped Emory Law develop a new strategic plan, working tirelessly to engage all members of the Emory Law community. Phil has a deep and abiding commitment to service, inspiring everyone around him with his tireless dedication. He embodies honor, commitment and loyalty.”
Reese is a recipient of the Turman Award, Emory’s highest alumni award for service, honoring those who make exemplary contributions of time, expertise and leadership. He has used his time, creativity and influence to help both schools with fundraising, including peer-to-peer (which the broader university came to adopt), mentoring, and assisting with leadership activities that helped the school “break out of the pack” and rise to the top 10 percent of schools in the country. Soon after assisting the business school, Reese was asked to help energize the law school, and consequently he was elected to the board. “We brought in a new dean, encouraged the university to invest in the school and engaged the alumni more broadly resulting in the lifting of the school significantly in the rankings,” Reese explains.
“There is a service ethic at Emory that touched me as an undergrad, was furthered as a grad student, and that drives me to this day,” Reese recalls. “Emory helped me develop a broader understanding to interact in a complex and culturally diverse world. It was absolutely fundamental to everything I did as an undergrad and grad student, and has buoyed me up through life. With 40 plus years in a business career, my education at Emory was absolutely fundamental.”